San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is a small city located in the state of Guanajuato , in Mexico ‘s mountainous bajío region. The bajío (low place) is actually about 2000 m (7000 ft) above sea level, but it is a relatively flat region surrounded by mountains; it is a part of the Mexican altiplano. San Miguel serves as the administrative seat for the surrounding municipality of Allende, Guanajuato .
The city was founded in 1542 by a Franciscan monk as San Miguel El Grande. It was an important stop over on the Antiguo Camino Real, part of the silver route from Zacatecas, Zacatecas.
The town featured prominently in the Mexican War of Independence. General Ignacio Allende, one of San Miguel’s native sons, was a leading player in the war against Spain for independence. Allende, captured in battle and beheaded, is a national hero. San Miguel el Grande renamed itself “San Miguel de Allende” in 1826 in honor of his actions.
By 1900, San Miguel de Allende was in danger of becoming a ghost town. Declared a national historic monument in 1926 by the Mexican government, development in the historic district is restricted in order to preserve the town’s colonial character.
In the 1950s, San Miguel de Allende became a destination known for its beautiful colonial architecture and its thermal springs. After World War II San Miguel began to revive as a tourist attraction as many demobilized United States GI’s discovered that their education grants stretched further in Mexico at the U.S.-accredited art schools, the privately-owned Instituto Allende, founded in 1950, and the Bellas Artes, a nationally chartered school. In the counterculture years of the 1960`s, San Miguel began its career as a center for American expatriotism and was a popular destination for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, as recorded in Tom Wolfe ´s novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Beat writer Neal Cassady died beside the railroad tracks outside San Miguel after a party in town.
The presence of expatriates can be marked in a lot of ways. There are courses offered with expatriates in mind, there are concerts, and other activities that are not typically found in a Mexican town of this size. The most marked, and one of the most important marks of its utility to travelers is the friendliness and usefulness of the Immigration office there. It’s one of the easiest places to get a new Tourist card in all of Mexico. Why? People who go there usually don’t go much further south than Oaxaca.
It’s worth your while to go to San Miguel for visa problems, especially if the alternative is Mexico City. Of all the Immigration offices, Mexico city is one of the most bureaucratic and hidebound of the bunch in Mid-Mexico. What can take several days in Mexico City may be settled in a few hours in San Miguel. They get less demand, are used to foreigners, and so are gentler on the foreigner.
Besides, it’s a nice place to rest from more hectic Mexican cities, the climate is mild, and it can amuse you for a few days. Some people seem to be captured by it, so beware.
In San Miguel you will find an amazing mixture of people, from retired Americans, Mexican locals, International college students, and common travelers. All seem to have meshed together perfectly to maintain the integrity and historic value of the city.
Weather is typical of central mountainous Mexico. It varies little, and even in the hottest months (May and June) when daytime temperatures can reach 100F (over 35C), the dry air makes it tolerable and cool mountain breezes tend to make evenings delightful. Winter evenings (from December to February) can get cold, even down to freezing overnight, but it warms up quickly in the morning. The rainy season extends from June to September when days are pleasant for sightseeing until heavy downpours (usually late in the afternoon and evening) cool and freshen the air. Ultimately, the climate has the lazy, quiet air and temperance of Palm Springs, encouraging long hours of swimming and pool-side tanning, reading or napping, or just lying in a hammock and forgetting the world exists.
San Miguel weather
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel
Like every building in San Miguel, the town’s striking centerpiece has its own trademark tale. Originally constructed in 1683, the church was slated for a facelift in 1880 and now is having a new one. The main artisan in charge of construction was an Indian named Zefferino Gutierrez (who was illiterate) who is said to have modeled the refurbished structure from a postcard he had found of the Cathedral of Cologne from Germany.
All pictures by the author
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